YOU think you’ve put your school days behind you, then you find yourself standing in the playground once again in the midst of petty squabbles and personality clashes and that’s just with the other parents!
As a parent with a child in primary school sometimes it feels as though I have stepped into a Tardis and been wafted back in time to my own school days. We tend to forget what those days were like, going back into the front line as the parent of a school child can quickly awaken some painful memories.
I had forgotten for instance the year of my school Christmas party. I must have been around 10 years old, it was held at night and we all felt very grown-up going to a night time party. Much preparation had gone into my appearance. Mum and I had traipsed around town and finally found the perfect dress in Etam, a maxi dress (it was the late 1970s), mum had described the colour as ashes of roses, it was purpley-pink covered with prints of Romeo and Juliet.
I thought I was the bee’s knees in it! Mum had put my waist length hair in ringlets and I felt great. Unfortunately my nemesis, a girl who used to delight in constantly knocking me down in the playground and spitting in my hair, decided she didn’t like my dress and told me so as soon as I entered the party.
She gave me vile looks all night, but it was whilst playing the farmer wants a wife that the real fun began. So jealous was she when the school hunk Jeffrey, picked me as his wife, she ran at me from across the room. I could see her coming; it was as though everything went into slow motion. She rugby tackled me to the floor, ripping my lovely dress in the process and bounced repeatedly on my stomach until I vomited all over my hair. My dad was telephoned to come and collect me and I was sick again over the back seat of his new car. I had so looked forward to that night and was distraught by how it had ended. My mother was apoplectic with anger and confronted the child’s mother the next day.
Not much has changed since I stood in that school yard. Decades may have passed but the same cruelty I experienced as a child seems to be alive and well in the playground. This horrible childhood memory had been reawakened for me as I made my way home from school after leaving my son off and seeing him being treated badly by a friend. He has lots of pals to play with and is very outgoing, but inexplicably he always seeks to win favour with a particularly moody girl. Sometimes she is his best friend; sometimes she is obnoxious to him as she was this morning. I watched him bounce up ready to play with her and she folded her arms and walked away ignoring him repeatedly. Each time he said hello to her she gave him a dirty look and turned her back, it was excruciating to watch. I told him to stay away, yet like a puppy dog returning to his master to get kicked, he kept going back for more. She reminded me of Great Expectation’s Estella, a character whom was raised by Miss Havisham to torment men and break their hearts. In the classic novel she won Pip’s heart by practicing deliberate cruelty, this tactic unfortunately also seems to be having the same effect on my son.
It’s interesting to see even at such a young age, the assortment of personalities present in the playground; it’s a microcosm of the real world, filled with leaders, followers, bullies and jokers. It’s also incredibly difficult for a parent, having already been through their own baptism of fire that is childhood friendships, to stand by and watch the cruelty of other children to their own child. We have to try and stay slightly removed from the situation before our own inner child comes leaping out of the cupboard carrying all their own rejections and hurts and perhaps wanting to get even for all the trespasses that had been made against them over the years.
Growing up is an incredibly difficult process. The happiness of playing with our friends then the crushing despair that comes when a friend turns foe is as hurtful for the parent to watch as it is for the child to experience.
If a child comes home with tales that someone won’t play we can often jump in with an ‘interview for pain’, trying to get all the details of if they were mistreated in the day. Experts say children selectively remember one or two small rejections forgetting an abundance of good things that happened with friends daily. I’m glad I have a son, because according to Sarah Ebner’s book ’The Starting School Survival Guide’, girls’ friendships are more difficult that boys’. This is partly because girls love to talk where as boys prefer to play football. Girls become close through their talking but that can all change in a heartbeat and they can become extremely upset when friendships change. Boys tend to have a physical or verbal fight and that’s it, no holding grudges, dirty looks or going behind backs.
Children’s friendships are a minefield, all good one minute, all Lord of the Flies the next.
The agony of the playground keeps on repeating itself for every generation. Humans are capable of causing hurt to each other from a very early age. The novelist Sartre had a point when he said: ‘Hell is other people’.
Personally I agree with whomever made the remark: ‘The more I see of people, the more I like dogs!’